By Dr. S.M. Rahman

Musical Chair

A very ironic situation prevails in our political predicament, the military Vs civilian rule – an alternating paradigm, which baffles as to who governs better, the military dictators or the civilian leaders, wearing a ‘democratic cloak’, but inside they are power drunk despots. They masquerade as ‘elected representatives’, of the people, but behave as typical feudals, with a propensity to control and exercise power capriciously and typical indifference to the very people, who ritualistically exercise their ‘vote’, often quite naively on the empty rhetorics, juicy slogans and hyperbolic promises not to be fulfilled.

I recall an interesting situation, I had to encounter, when I was invited to speak to a cross-section of military officers in the Fleet Club Hall Karachi. This was the time when late General Ziaul Haq happened to be the military ruler and I was serving in General Headquarters as Advisor, Psychological Operations. I was perhaps covering the Psycho-social problems of the country and when I finished my talk, in an hour or so, a serving commander, Lt Col’s rank stood up and asked me a rather sensitive question: “You are the advisor to the President, but despite all efforts to launch, propaganda against the PPP, its image has not come down in the eyes of the people and that it still lives in their hearts. Should there be elections, it is certain that this party will come into power due to sympathy votes on account of hanging of its very popular leader – Z.A. Bhutto. So, how do you explain it? I was really in a fix as how to answer this question. I knew if I said any thing that went against the military ruler, it was bound to reach his ears before I returned to GHQ, so to avoid the embarrassment, I answered the question with a tinge of humour. I said, “I should first clarify as to what is the role of an advisor. Based on my experience, I can say that advisor’s role is hardly to give advice based on one’s conscience. It is generally expected of him to justify the policies and decisions, the ruler takes, and that I was no exception.” Any way, I said, “I would like to narrate a story of a “Mirasi” (low class labourer), who was facing hard times on account of the fact that he had no job. So to console his wife, he used to urge her to wait for a few days, and that he had been promised a job very soon and then he would buy every thing she wanted. The days rolled on, but the poor ‘mirasi’ went on repeating the same ‘promise’ over and over again, but with no tangible result. Due to prolonged deprivations and debility, the poor mirasi died. When his wife was weeping, the women folk of the locality came and asked her as to why was she weeping? The husband had left nothing for her – no house, no money – nothing whatsoever. She replied after wiping her tears, that while it was true that he had left nothing for her, but praising her husband nevertheless, she said after all, he was always giving her ‘dilasa’ (sort of making her dream for better days to come). Therefore, I said that ‘dilasa’ was a very potent weapon which kept hopes and expectations alive in the hearts of the people. I further clarified that PPP symbolically represented the colossal deprivations of the people at the lower rung – the silent majority. Not many political parties even do that and that PPP essentially was a ‘dilasa party’. The audience burst into laughter and the question was not pursued any further.

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The military regimes in general have caused immense visible and invincible wounds to our polity. Ayub Khan tried to project himself a bit taller than even Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The way he manipulated the elections through a system of ‘Basic Democracy’, essentially a mockery to defeat Madar-e-Millat Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah. Had she assumed the Presidential power, one can confidently say that we would not have lost the former East Pakistan. She had lived with the father of the nation through thick and thin and had internalized the norms and values of true democracy. The 1965 and 1971 wars also would have been politically averted and Pakistan would not have been detracted from the vision of our forebears. Besides the loss of one half of the country, the hanging of Z.A. Bhutto, General Zia’s total indifference to country’s interest and futile attempt to gain popularity through transforming the society towards puritan Islam and promoting militancy across the Pak-Afghan borders, was totally against the ethos of the society and true to its builder, who adhered to liberal Islamic order, shunning theocracy. The 1973 Constitution very effectively projected the national sentiments, which was very badly mauled by the successive military rulers to suit their vested interests.

Notwithstanding the grave errors, on the part of the military dictators, General Pervez Musharraf committed a great political sin by disgracing and publicly humiliating the Chief Justice and arresting over sixty judges of the Supreme Court which was an unprecedented act, expressive of a deranged military mind, which triggered a vigorous civil movement comprising the lawyers, political parties and other segments of the society, which ultimately paved the way for his ouster from the seat of power. There were other blunders too, he made which history would never forgive. In his over enthusiasm to please USA (covertly aimed at self perpetuation into power), he stormed the Red Mosque through a ruthless use of military power killing innocent girls and boys, mostly orphans and a few fanatics who were inside the mosque. This could have been averted through dialogue and negotiation but the loyalist General had to exhibit his abhorrence of “Islamic extremism” by transforming the society into the so called moderate liberalism, i.e., from one end of the continuum of General Zia’s misconceived notion of Islam to other end, an apish conformity to extremist western liberalism, for which the Shah of Iran had to pay a heavy price. Pakistan’s ideology resides in the middle of two extremist views. Any ruler who goes in tangent to the peoples’ aspirations, can never ensure his popularity.


Pakistan’s nuclear parity with India had changed the regional dynamics and Pakistan could no longer be taken lightly and that the Indian leaders Vajpai’s visit to Lahore and address from Minar-e-Pakistan was a tacit recognition of the reality. This was thoughtlessly squandered by General Musharraf’s ill-conceived and badly executed Kargil Operation. India became not only belligerent, but it embarked on an aggressive propaganda against Pakistan’s terrorist mind-set patronizing militant jehadis, besides providing support to the separatist elements in Balochistan, and expanding its hegemonic ambitions in Afghanistan. The gravest tragedy Pakistan could face was to be pushed into the so called War on Terror, due to servile disposition of the ‘commando dictator’, causing colossal strategic set-back to Pakistan. The story of civil governance is equally sordid and indeed a slur on the name of ‘democracy’. People are in dilemma whom to trust, the military or civil?

The present governance has failed to deliver even the basic amenities of life. Except for the elites, who plunder wealth, the life of the citizens is indeed very deplorable. The crisis of credibility is so acute that people have developed antipathy against the so called ‘democratic governance’. In a talk show, a very well known journalist expressed his extreme disgust for ‘democracy’ and said that it was ‘nauseating’, and the remedy he suggested was frightfully horrendous – a benevolent dictator, as the need of the time. Politicians have become symbol of greed and rapacity and the nation, it appears is self-sufficient in corruption and violation of all human rights. Anarchy pervades.


Richard Branson – a British writer had said: “I believe in benevolent dictatorship provided I am the dictator.” That “I” is a myth. Let the lame democracy continue, till the voice of the people ushers in a respectable democracy.

Dr S M Rahman is Secretary General, FRIENDS, a Think Tank established by General Mirza Aslam Beg. He is Ph.D. in Political Psychology and author of numerous books. He is a regular contributor to